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The book “The Souls of Black Folk” by W.E.B. Du Bois expresses the author’s perception and reflection towards the life, fate, and self-determination of African people in America. The author attempts to convey his experiences and realization, describing past and present events he witnessed or participated in and people representing these nations. The book raises many questions by expressing essential for humanity concepts. Among them, there is the concept of double-consciousness that Du Bois inserts into his work. Are there ways that this concept still resonates in 2020? It partially seems to be reflected even nowadays.
The way it resonates is the state of all the people who feel unaccepted, estranged, and not belonging anywhere. For instance, people who do not match the modern society frames, such as appearance, orientation, gender. According to Rios, Carney, and Kelekay, today, the issue seems to broaden.1 Not only the color of a person’s skin can be a cause of unacceptance and problems with self-identity, but a much wider range of characteristics is taken into account. Nowadays, a person often faces a confrontation between the image created by what he himself wants and the image based on what the society wants him to be. It is where the “two-ness” begins. To analyze the concept of double-consciousness further, it is necessary to focus on two chapters from this book – “Of Our Spiritual Strivings” and “The Sorrow Songs”.
Of Our Spiritual Strivings
The first chapter concentrates on explaining the concept and its origin. Du Bois says about the feeling: “It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others.”1 The author describes the feeling of “two-ness,” which was developing in him, starting from the boyhood. It was the time when he began to realize that the place where he was contradicted with his heart and soul.
Later on, this sense transformed into a willingness to adapt to the alien culture, make something meaningful out of life, and fulfill the potential. Simultaneously, he could not deny or forget his origin and, therefore, could not be free to live in another culture with different values and realities. This “two-ness” is transferred into the sense of inner confrontation and inability to identify oneself. As was mentioned before, nowadays, many people who do not match society frames tend to suffer from similar problems.
The Sorrow Songs
The next chapter to be discussed focuses more on people and their self-expression through creativity and music, their ability to convey their culture and deep emotions sometimes even without comprehensible words. African people can recount so much in their songs – their origin and culture, pain, and happiness; sometimes. Apart from the concept of double-consciousness, they manage to communicate such notions as death, motherless, faith. “Sometimes it is faith in life, sometimes a faith in death, … But whichever it is, the meaning is always clear: sometime, somewhere, men will judge men by their souls and not by their skins.”2 The main hope implied in most of the songs is that acceptance is possible and will come one day.
All in all, as a result of the analysis, it is possible to conclude that the concepts of double-consciousness and hope not only permeate the book “The Souls of Black Folk” by W.E.B Du Bois. They are also vital conceptions of American people’s lives. Last but not least, it is impossible not to be touched by this poignant book and deep insight into these people’s culture and life. Moreover, the concept of double-consciousness still resonates in today’s reality through people who are not entirely understood by society but want to be accepted, which leads to the inner confusion and “two-ness”.
Du Bois, W.E.B. The Souls of Black Folk. Edited by David W. Blight and Robert Gooding-Williams. Boston: Bedford Books, 1997.
Rios, Victor M., Nikita Carney, and Jasmine Kelekay. “Ethnographies of Race, Crime, and Justice: Toward a Sociological Double-consciousness.” Annual Review of Sociology, no. 43 (2017): 493-513.
- W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk. Eds. David W. Blight and Robert Gooding-Williams (Boston: Bedford Books, 1997), 38.
- Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 192.